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21 March 2012

Lady Bakewell and the Buranovskie Babushki

Older British readers will remember Joan Bakewell, whom Frank Muir famously described as “the thinking man’s crumpet”. Russian readers should know that “crumpet” has two apparently unrelated meanings: a type of soft, floury cake, and a woman whose attraction is mainly sexual.
     This was amusing because Ms Bakewell was an earnest, brainy late-night television presenter of left-wing tendencies who was a serial interviewer of the intelligentsia, usually male. Ten years ago, she published an autobiography revealingly entitled The Centre of the Bed. She had a celebrated extra-marital affair with Harold Pinter, the Nobel Prize winning playwright, and was, I think, successful on television because she was able to appear simultaneously puritanical and flirtatious. “Let’s break all the rules, darling!”
     In 2010 she was created Baroness Bakewell, presumably for services to thinking men. Alas, I was never one of them. I can’t imagine why, unless it is the fact that I never actually met her. That was a serious disadvantage in her day, which pre-dated the internet by several decades. Perhaps I am now too late, since she is 78 years old and presumably not so user-friendly as in her Muir-Pinter period.
     But her Ladyship is still active, in the press at any rate, and appears to have most of her mental faculties intact. I say “most” because in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph, she wrote what struck me as a very odd sentence for a Cambridge-educated blue-stocking. In connection with the Russian Eurovision group Buranovskie Babushki, otherwise known as the Dentist’s Delight, the noble Baroness wrote: “It rejoices my heart to see them.”
     As far as I can see from the Oxford dictionary, the transitive use of the word “rejoice” went out of fashion about 150 years ago. Certainly, I have never come across it in modern prose, not even in the way Harold Pinter might have used it: “Brace yourself, Joan! I am coming round tonight to rejoice you.”
     What, I said to myself, is the old girl up to? Then a horrible thought burst in on my own ageing brain: her Ladyship was born more than half-way back to 150 years ago! I suddenly felt no more urge to criticise. Instead I got down on my knees and prayed briefly for her soul, as it cannot be all that long before it is removed from the Upper House of the British parliament to an even higher place—if such a thing is possible.
     Anyway, that is getting off the point of what I intended to say, namely that Lady Bakewell also drew attention in her article to Barry Humphries, who ranks for me as one of the half-dozen or so greatest humorists who have worked in English in my life-time. He is the man who coined the deathless Australianism that I quoted this morning in connection with that ludicrous Japanese sports car: as ugly as a hatful of arseholes. But I fear time is running away with me today. So I am going to deal with him at proper length in my next post. Bear with me, please, gentle reader.

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